JEFFERSON — For most people, haunted houses, hotels and castles are a once-a-year event when the brave-at-heart creep through such sites on All Hallows' Eve.
It usually is a thrill saved for moonlit nights in October, and usually with the assurance that any ghost or goblin is a sheet or a rubber mask.
For the staff at the Jefferson Hotel, they say their encounters with the paranormal happen weekly — even daily — throughout the year and without any such assurances.
They say the hotel is haunted.
"I was a pretty big skeptic when I first came along," manager Alicia Montgomery said, adding she has changed her opinion in the four years she has worked at the hotel. "I know there are things that are unexplainable that happen in the hotel. I've been the only one at the hotel, with no employees and no guests, and the front switchboards on the front desk light up like rooms are talking to each other.
"Dishes have been moving; I haven't seen them, but you hear them clinging. Our pay phone in the hall rings. Televisions are turned on and off. I've seen things fall with no one around them. Things happen all the time."
Woman in white
The tales told about the Jefferson Hotel are the stuff of typical ghost stories: the jilted bride, playful but mysterious children and even a mysterious man that lingers about the hotel hallways.
"The main story is of Elizabeth," Montgomery said. "She was a guest that hung herself in the hotel in the 1870s. She was a bride that was stood up on her wedding day. She hung herself from the bed that is currently in Room 19. We were told that the groom never showed up. She felt she couldn't go on with her life. I'm told local historians think that she probably was pregnant. Back in the 1800s, no one could help you out. That might explain it."
Housekeeper Denise Garza said she gave up being a skeptic after working at the hotel.
"People say you can't hang yourself from the headboard of a bed. You can if it's 12 feet tall," Garza said, opening the door into Room 19.
Jodi Breckenridge, former manager of the Jefferson Hotel and current operator of Historical Jefferson Ghost Tours, said despite the temptation to write some of the tales off as fantasy, she believes the stories have at least some historical truth.
"(In) all old hotels and castles, you have the jilted bride, the woman in white or the woman in gray. I assumed it was just legend," Breckenridge said. "(But) I actually found an old newspaper when I was going through a bunch of old papers back about 15 years ago. There is actually a story in one of the old newspapers that relates the story. It is a true story. It is not something that was made up."
Though Montgomery and Breckenridge disagree on the finer points of the story, such as the names and the dates, the tragedy remains the same.
"To me, it's not a ghost story unless you know why it's a ghost story," Breckenridge said. "It happened in 1912. The woman's name was Lydia Grisby. Her family was staying at the hotel; the fiancé sent word that he wasn't coming (to the wedding), and she came back to the hotel where she did hang herself."
Montgomery and Breckenridge also agree on the existence of another of the hotel's ghostly guests.
"There are children's ghosts," Montgomery said. "They like the lower floors. They're practical jokers. They move objects. Sometimes our guests bring toys for them to play with. They like small objects, like pennies, marbles and keys. Things like that are moved often in our hotel.
"We've had some mediums and psychics tell me that one of our child ghosts is older than Elizabeth and that she is from the cotton warehouse days."
Breckenridge said some people actually have seen the children around the hotel's corridors.
"When people tell me that they've seen them, I'll ask before I say anything, 'What do they look like?' 'What are they wearing?' Just to compare stories to see if everyone is seeing the same thing," she said. "It's always a little girl and little boy, 7 to 8 years old. They always describe her as wearing the pinafore, white leotard and black high-top button boots. They say he has on knee britches. It's not fancy clothes; it's just what children would be wearing everyday."
Garza said she has had personal encounters with the children.
"You can turn off a light, and it will turn on again when you walk away, but when you walk back to turn it off, it will switch off by itself. (But) they'll behave when I tell them to," she said. "Sometimes I'll just say, 'All right children, enough is enough,' and they'll stop."
Breckenridge said the final ghost that guests have reported seeing is a man.
"The man people see, who he is I don't know," she said. "We get a description ... of a guy that's tall and wears a long duster-type jacket with his pants tucked inside his boots. He is seen walking down the hall. He will turn and walk left to turn into a room, (but) when you go to look in the doorway, the room is completely empty.
"That would happen a lot of the time when I was there. People would claim to follow him down the hall, and he would always disappear into thin air."
Montgomery said the hotel encourages the tales and for its guests to write about their stay in journals supplied at the front desk.
Though many of the entries in the journals list unusual sounds or extreme temperature changes in the room, others — such as one dated Dec. 20, 2014 — tell stories a little more chilling.
"Everyone took a shower before me and only whenever I showered, 'get out' appeared on the mirror," a guest wrote of a stay in Room 17. "The next morning there was nothing. We turned the heater off and throughout the night it would be scorching hot and then freezing cold."
Not all guests enjoy their brush with the supernatural, Montgomery said.
"We've had people leave in the middle of the night or sleep on the couch on the lobby," she said. "Some people say they feel touches or will hear people talking to them and think it's their wives and their wives are sound asleep or vice versa."
Guests can request specific rooms that have a reputation for being the favorite haunts of the hotel's ghostly residents.
For more information, call (903) 665-2631 or visit www.historicjeffersonhotel.com.